“The contract is one-sided although you still don’t have nothing. You don’t even have health insurance while you’re putting your body on the line”Francis Ngannnou
Who would’ve thought Jake Paul would be at the forefront of increasing fighter benefits
By Mo Hussain, Contributor
On January 22, UFC Heavyweight Francis Ngannou successfully defended his UFC heavyweight championship in a highly-anticipated fight against contender Ciryl Gane. The anticipation not only stemmed from the two fighters being former training partners but also came from Ngannou’s contract situation with the UFC. The fight was scheduled to be his final bout in the organization if he were to lose the championship.
However, since he successfully defended the title, he’s now under a “champions clause” which automatically extends his contract for another championship fight. But Ngannou is yet to sign a long-term deal with the company. Leading up to the fight, Ngannou refused to renew his contract and left a lot of money on the table.
“By now, I might be down at least $7-million that I left on the table,” said Ngannou in a January 24 interview with Ariel Helwani. “Freedom doesn’t work with money, you give up one to get the other.”
Ngannou mentioned how he thought the money was tempting, but the nature of how he feels the UFC limits fighters with their “independent contracts” is what bothers him. Ngannou has also previously expressed interest in being allowed to box while under contract with the UFC.
“The contract is one-sided although you still don’t have nothing. You don’t even have health insurance while you’re putting your body on the line…[We have] no guarantees, which I understand for independent contractors, but treat me as such.”
The UFC does provide health insurance for its active fighters if they are injured during a fight, or in the training camp leading up to the fight. However, the promotion has no health benefits program for inactive fighters past their careers. UFC President Dana White teased that something related to that will be coming “soon” back in July of 2021.
All this talk about fighter contracts has been on the attention of celebrity boxer and YouTuber Jake Paul. Paul has been outspoken about fighter pay for quite some time and recently made a big investment to fight for that battle. He and business partner Geoffrey Woo put money into the UFC’s parent company Endeavor. Paul and Woo believe that the company “can drive long-term economic value by increasing UFC fighter pay & providing them healthcare.
He recently appeared on ESPN’s First Take on January 27, to talk about the kind of impact he wants to have on the UFC: “I just so happened to not be beholden to anybody, a lot of these UFC fighters are beholden to Dana White. They can’t speak out against him so I’m using my platform because I’m one of the very few people who actually can,” Paul said.
Dana White appeared on CNBC in July of 2021, alongside Endeavor CEO Ari Emmanual. White was presented with the fact that the UFC pays 18 percent of its gross profits to fighters. This was compared to the 50 percent that other major sports leagues pay their athletes. Here’s what White had to say about criticism regarding how the company pays its fighters: “That’s been going on for 20 years, and it will be going on for the next 20 years. I don’t think you’re ever going to see a scenario where you see a fighter or anybody for that matter saying they’re overpaid.”
He also talked about how he thinks fighters who contribute the most to revenue aren’t the ones who complain about fighter pay. However, this wasn’t entirely the case with the recent Ngannou situation. He is currently the number one heavyweight in the company and set a record for the live gate attendance at the Honda Center. He was still dissatisfied with his contract situation.
In that same interview, Emmanuel also chimed in saying that the UFC has supposedly increased fighter pay by 600 percent since 2005.
Whether Ngannou and Paul end up getting their way in increasing fighter benefits, or if White and the UFC keep holding their ground remains to be seen. However, it will be very interesting to see how this situation plays out in the coming months.